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Warsaw. 80 years ago, the Germans blew up the Great Synagogue in Warsaw

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On May 16, 1943, the Germans blew up the Great Synagogue in Tłomackie. Designed by the famous Warsaw architect Leander Marconi, it existed for only 65 years. Today, the Blue Skyscraper stands in its place. On the anniversary of the demolition of the temple, the performance “Still Standing 2023” will take place in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, as part of which Varsovians will become a “living monument”.

“On May 16, on the anniversary of the destruction of the Great Synagogue, we will refer to the legendary performance by the Israeli choreographer Noi Eshkol, prepared by her for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and presented in 1953 at the Lohamei Hageta’ot (Ghetto Fighters) kibbutz in Israel. As part of Still Standing 2023, together with professional dancers and people with no dance experience, we will create a kind of ephemeral monument in urban space. The bodies of the participants will become a living sculpture created in relation to the place, announced the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Place: urban space (beginning – the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, ending – the terrace of the Muranów cinema). Participants are asked to bring a smartphone and headphones. The event is accompanied by an audio track read by actress Agnieszka Grochowska. Start at 18.00.

One of the largest synagogues

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The Great Synagogue at 7 Tłomackie Street – one of the largest synagogues in Europe at that time – was designed by Leander Marconi, an outstanding Polish architect with Italian roots. In January 1874, the tsar’s governor Fiodor Berg approved the project in the neo-Renaissance style fashionable at the end of the 19th century.

From 1942, the synagogue was located outside the ghetto. According to the researchers, blowing up such a large building in the center of the occupied capital was supposed to symbolize the “German triumph” over both the fighters and the civilian population hiding in bunkers, shelters and hiding places during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The Great Synagogue at TłomackieJHI

Collection and official opening

The ceremony of laying the cornerstone for the construction took place on May 14, 1876. The undertaking was financed from the collections of the Jewish community of Warsaw.

The synagogue was a three-nave, brick building with aisles divided by two-storey arcades. The central nave was covered with a barrel vault. The building was crowned with a characteristic dome. The main hall was 29 by 33 meters. It is known that there were 2,200 seats in it. The then innovative central heating was used. The interior was lit by gas lamps.

On September 26, 1878, on Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – the temple was opened for the Jewish community. During the Second Polish Republic, the Great Synagogue was an important center of religious and cultural life. There were also music concerts and choir performances, as well as services on the occasion of e.g. Polish public holidays.

In January 1940 it was closed.

The Germans allowed it to open again in 1941, but after a few months the facility was closed when it was located in an area excluded from the boundaries of the ghetto. From the spring of 1942, the synagogue served as a warehouse for furniture taken by the Germans from the ghetto prisoners. The equipment of the building was looted by the Germans and largely devastated.

Establishment and destruction of the synagogue

On April 19, 1943, an uprising broke out in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Germans assumed they would be suppressed quickly. However, the resistance of the militants and civilians turned out to be much stronger. The fighting lasted for more than four weeks.

The Germans decided that the destruction of the Great Synagogue would symbolize not only the end of a temple important to the Jewish community, but also the end of the largest ghetto in Europe occupied by them. “Es gibt keinen jüdischen Wohnbezirk in Warschau mehr! (The Jewish residential quarter in Warsaw no longer exists!)” reported Jürgen Stroop in his report to SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler.

Great Synagogue in Tłomackiemat. archive / TVN24

READ ALSO: The Great Synagogue appeared on a blue skyscraper

The Great Synagogue symbolically returnedTVN24

Every inhabitant of Warsaw knew the characteristic silhouette of the synagogue

The Great Synagogue was one of the largest, if not the largest, building in the ghetto (almost every inhabitant of Warsaw at that time knew its very characteristic silhouette). From 1942, it was outside the district, but it was still a symbolic building, closely connected with the Jewish community. Therefore, Stroop decided to destroy it. Wehrmacht sappers installed charges and detonators. At the landing, apart from Stroop, SS and police staff officers were present.

The building was turned into ruin on May 16, 1943 at 20.15.

Few relics from the synagogue have survived to our times: two, only 50 cm high, fragments of columns, a silver tray and a metal number from the cloakroom with the number 462 and the inscription “Synagoga na Tłomackie”. The exhibits are in the collection of the Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH) in the building of the Main Judaic Library (built in 1936). It was adjacent to the temple building.

Main photo source: JHI

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